Overnight, they appeared in major cities. Within a week, there was a pallet of competing colors along sidewalks. And in under a month, the streets were cluttered by kick stands. Bike sharing has become the latest craze in China, piggybacking off of companies like Uber and Didi to give urbanites a new and health-fueled option for short distance commuting or recreation. There’s just one key exception that sets these bike-sharing companies apart from the ones you’re familiar with back home; there aren’t any standardized docking stations. All it takes is a phone app.
Ofo, Mobike, Bluegogo, Geenbike; they’re loose on the streets. These various bike companies have monochromatically branded themselves, creating a rainbow of options scattered across every city that they’ve launched in. All a rider needs to do to access a bike is scan its QR code with the GPS-linked app and get on, and once they’ve finished they can hop off, lock it and walk away. The bikes are anywhere pedestrians might be coming and going, getting dropped off or picked up wherever as people go about their days. “China’s billion-dollar bike-sharing revolution has already transformed the look and feel of cities around the country, with more than 100 million apps downloaded and billions of rides taken on many millions of bikes”- The Washington Post
Mobike has positioned itself as the most popular option among foreigners due to their acceptance of foreign identity cards and passports, and to mobike has become as common of a verb as to google among the expat community. For all of the convenience and fun that these bikes have created, the eighth plague of two-wheeled locusts is also causing problems in the cities that they’ve invaded.
5. Two-wheeled mayhem
They mean well and just want to have fun, but there’s a certain etiquette to city cycling that won’t be followed by your average mobiker. Meandering and weaving, clogging bike lanes with sheer numbers, riding on sidewalks or against traffic… It stands to reason that somebody who rarely bikes isn’t all that good at it. Streets can already get pretty hectic here in China, and this multi-colored flood of bikers has created a haphazard environment on the streets for both other bikers and pedestrians.
4. Unexpected costs
1RMB a ride is a pretty good deal, and the deposit of 300RMB makes sense. These apps rely on you topping up your account with a minimum amount of credit, and then working off of that. But if you drop below that minimum or park your bike inside of a residential area… expect huge fees!
3. Broken parts
Wear and tear comes with the territory, and months after the launch, shared bikes have become hit or miss due to broken locks and faulty equipment. It’s a no-brainer that a service based on convenience and accessibility will begin to be relied upon, and nothing is more frustrating than when every bike on your block has been temporarily locked down due to maintenance issues. Or worse yet, if a bike doesn’t unlock when scanned, you can’t relock it to end your ride… often resulting in your account being temporarily frozen after you’ve been forced to report the malfunction. But hey, at least the bikes have only been breaking when I’m running late and not while I’m riding one!
While not so much of an issue for the rider, it is funny to see these bikes plastered with ads. As they overwhelm the sidewalks, people are making use of them in every way possible. Then comes the less innocent instances of vandalism, as everybody from disgruntled residents to artistic provocateurs (LINK) do what they please with the surplus of bikes. And let’s not forget the company Wukong, which went bankrupt after 90% of their 16,000 bikes simply disappeared in under 5 months.
1. Cluttering and graveyards
There are just simply too many damn bikes. “These days, the key to winning the battle for market share, building brand loyalty, and attracting outside investment isn’t satisfying customer demand. Instead, the focus has shifted to overwhelming the competition” – Sixth Tone’s Why China’s Shared Bikes Are Locked in a Race to the Bottom. Vandalism hasn’t been the only public response to the flood of bikes on China’s streets, and I’d been shocked to witness first hand the Shenzhen city police piling them into heaps on busy street corners. Amidst the night life were graveyards of bikes tangled atop each other, waiting to be confiscated and impounded. When the business model has shifted from meeting a need to flooding the streets, the backlash amounts to mountains.
Mountains of mobikes and potential problems. Who knows what the future holds… For now I’m enjoying seeing all angles of shared bikes (including those piled up, lined up and beat up on the streets). Thanks for this in-depth observation of China’s latest transportation obsession!